Trump Time Capsule #12: 'I'm Building a Wall'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

I strongly encourage you to watch this CNN clip from Jake Tapper’s latest interview with Donald Trump:

Trump Time Capsule #12, June 3, 2016. I’m Building a Wall

You may think you’ve heard it all about this dispute; you may think there is no conceivable juice to be wrung from Trump’s complaints about federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is hearing the fraud case against Trump University; you may think this is asked-and-answered, and tedious.

If you watch the brief clip, I think you’ll be surprised. I was. For context:

  • Trump has just come off a solid week of being criticized high and low for racist comments about a judge’s “Mexican heritage”;
  • He has heard a million times that Judge Curiel, despite his “heritage,” is impeccably American, having been born, raised, and schooled in Indiana and then having worked as a prosecutor in California;
  • Even the Republicans who have most recently endorsed Trump, notably Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and John McCain, have publicly lamented his anti-Latino tone; and yet...

This very afternoon, Tapper asks him, “If you are saying he cannot do his job, because of his race, is that not the definition of racism? And Trump answers with: “We’re building a wall. He’s a Mexican! We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.” Thus obviously the judge would be aggrieved.

To his credit Tapper persists in pointing out that the wall would have no effect on a person already in the United States because he was born here. Note the incredulity on Tapper’s face at the end of the clip when he tells Trump, “He’s not a Mexican. He’s from Indiana!” (I wish only that Tapper had thought to say, “He’s not a Mexican. He’s a Hoosier!”) Even considering everything we’ve seen and heard recently, I found this a remarkable 68 seconds of video. Judge for yourself.

***

Once again, why bother recording any of this? I have no illusion that Donald Trump will change his mind or his views, nor that his core supporters might be peeled away. This is who he is, and it’s part of what some people like about him.

But it is worth being 100% eyes-open about the man that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jon Huntsman, Nikki Haley (so far), Reince Priebus, and other leaders of the Republican party are declaring acceptable as a potential commander-in-chief. As I write this, we can’t be sure that Donald Trump won’t end up as 45th President of the United States. But there should be no confusion — now, or when we consider this time in retrospect — about what his supporters are signing on for.